New Radiation Therapy Gives Hope to Children with Neuroblastoma

Rene Soto Taylor has done his best, and has put in his all to overcome cancer. At only 8 years old, he’s been through countless treatments to try to rid his body of the most common and most difficult type of solid tumor to treat in children – neuroblastoma. Today, Rene is hoping doctors have finally found the treatment that will conquer his disease: I-131-MIBG therapy.

A relatively new form of therapy, I-131-MIBG therapy delivers radiation directly to tumors, killing the cancer cells. This type of therapy concentrates the radiation at the site of the cancer, which means fewer long-term risks for patients.

“The most common use of MIBG therapy is in patients who our frontline therapy has failed,” said Dr. Julie Park, an attending physician in the Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Seattle Children’s who also leads the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) Neuroblastoma Scientific Committee.

Park has made it her mission to develop new and effective therapies to treat kids with cancer, in particular neuroblastoma.

“About half of children diagnosed with neuroblastoma have a type of neuroblastoma that is very curable,” Park said. “At times it may go away by itself. Unfortunately, the other half of children with neuroblastoma have what we call high risk neuroblastoma, and it is really one of the most difficult cancers of childhood to cure.”

Rene falls into the high-risk category, which is one of the reasons he’s traveling from his home in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, to Seattle Children’s to receive I-131-MIBG therapy. Seattle Children’s is the only hospital in the Pacific Northwest – and one of only about 15 in the country – to offer I-131-MIBG therapy.

It takes a team to treat a child with cancer

At Seattle Children’s, a team of nuclear medicine doctors, nuclear medicine technologists, oncologists and oncology nurses, trained in how to give I-131-MIBG therapy safely, provide around-the-clock care to children undergoing MIBG I-131 treatment.

“The patient themselves are radioactive and so their urine, their sweat, their saliva and just their body is radioactive. So we have to prepare the room in a special way that contains the radiation,” said Park.

The Cancer Care Unit at Seattle Children’s has a room designated for children getting I-131-MIBG therapy. The door and walls of the room are lined with lead, which stops radiation, an adjacent room has been designated for families to keep radiation exposure minimal, a radiation meter in the room continually monitors how much radiation a child is giving off and a special TV system allows parents, families and staff to see and hear a child from outside their room at all times.

“You can’t see through the door. And you can’t hear through the door, which is scary,” said Taylor, Rene’s mother. “But this treatment will help him, so we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We also have an amazing team of doctors, nurses, even a radiation safety officer by our side to help us through.”